The Ferry Building
SAN FRANCISCO, CA
240,000 SQUARE FEET
PRINCIPAL AT SMWM
In the early 1900s, the San Francisco Ferry Building was the center of public life in the city and the second busiest transportation terminal in the world. The introduction of automobiles and bay bridges diminished the building’s original purpose, leading to its deterioration and decades of neglect. Following the Loma Prieta earthquake and subsequent demolition of the elevated freeway that impeded access to the building, an opportunity presented itself to revive the Ferry Building. Our team was selected to spearhead its transformation.
Rather than view the building as a quick opportunity for thin money-making enterprises, we sought ways to secure its long-term success and viability. Our objective was to return the building to its original status as the signature public building in San Francisco by combining a comprehensive and strategic historical rehabilitation with new uses and spaces. First, we removed many of the incongruous alterations and additions added in the 1960s to reveal the Nave, the building’s signature feature, a historic 660-foot long grand entry hall that had once greeted ferry passengers. The resultant floor area flanking this majestic hall was transformed into highly desirable class A office space with views of the bay and rents that far exceeded initial expectations. Next, we had to visually and physically connect the ground floor, previously used for baggage, storage, and mechanical rooms, to the upper floor levels and streetscape outside. By connecting the nonpublic lower area with the upper
Nave space, we hoped to convert the Ferry Building into a prized public building cherished by local residents—thereby compelling tourists to visit – ultimately creating lasting value for our client and the city.
The new visibility of the ground floor was beneficial both inside and out and transformed the building into a world-class food hall marketplace, showcasing the best of bay area food purveyors. Visually connecting the food hall to the Nave above was essential to bring in daylight and connect thousands of visitors daily to the building’s rich history. The redesigned ground floor created a permeable building that allowed food vendors and restaurants to expand outside the building, increasing the value and excitement of the surrounding open spaces. Earning the historic site status and tax credits required a careful balance between creating new openings in the Nave to bring daylight and visibility to the food market and preserving the historic building fabric. To meld the character of the ground floor with the historical Nave above, we created interior designs for the lower level to seamlessly appear as part of the whole.
Home to residents and visitors alike, the San Francisco Ferry Building is considered one of the preeminent public buildings in San Francisco and is one of the biggest urban transformation stories in the United States.